Basketball was more than just a game for Jaiden Lewis. For the recent Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy graduate, it was what helped him get through high school — and help set up his future.
“Basketball is one of the most important things in my life,” Lewis said. “It kept me out of trouble, it kept me out of everything. It kept me focused, to be honest. It kept me in my books because I had to pass my classes if I wanted to play.”
Basketball did not come easily for Lewis, at least initially. He did not exactly burst onto the local high school hoops scene as he was more or less a spare part for the Tigers. But all that changed later in his career.
“My freshman year was tough because I didn’t make the basketball team,” Lewis said. “But I stuck with it, and I finally made it in my sophomore year. But I didn’t really play at all. I didn’t even score in my first year. But when I got my chance in the 11th grade, I was the second leading scorer on the team.”
Lewis teamed with best friend Will Feldman to give RKA quite the scoring tandem as the Tigers became one of the best teams in the Public School Athletic League’s B Division the past two seasons. And although the duo will go their separate ways this fall when their college careers begin, the window is not closed for an on-court reunion down the line.
“I’m going to college and I’m going to play at” Westchester Community College, Lewis said. “I was going to go to the College of Staten Island, but I decided to save money and go to WCC for two years and then transfer out.”
It’s after his planned transfer that could lead to a reunion as Lewis hopes to eventually wind up at Lehman College where Feldman is expected to play.
“Will is my best friend,” Lewis said. “Lehman graduated a lot of guys, so that seemed like the perfect opportunity. Seven guards graduated from that Lehman team. That’s crazy. So that’s where I hope to be eventually.”
Asked if Feldman put on the hard sell to get his former teammate to join him at Lehman, Lewis just laughed.
“It wasn’t that tough a sell at all,” Lewis said.
A North Riverdale resident, Lewis says he had many enjoyable experiences at RKA. The one that sticks out the most for him, however, came his sophomore year. Back then he was more of a spectator than a player.
“It was my first year on the team,” Lewis said. “But that team was more like a family because we won our last game of the regular season against Clinton to get into the playoffs. Clinton was a team that blew us out the first time we played them (a 52-36 loss), and then to beat them was great. I didn’t play at all in the game but it’s still my favorite memory from RKA.”
That playoff appearance was the first ever for the Tigers.
Lewis became an explosive offensive force his final two seasons, helping lead the Tigers to a combined 30-4 regular-season record as they logged two straight Bronx B-1 Division championships.
It made the Tigers regular visitors to the PSAL playoffs.
And like a lot of athletes who have attended RKA, Lewis credits his coach, John Reingold, with helping him become the person he is.
“He always pushes us to be our best, and he only wants the best for all of us,” Lewis said.
“He got a bunch of colleges that were interested in me to come to our games, and I didn’t even know I was going to play college basketball. Coming out of 10th grade, I didn’t do anything on the basketball team, but he gave me a chance and he eventually started me, and it all turned out pretty well.”
Yes, it all turned out pretty well at RKA for Lewis. Now the plan is for an eventual reunion with his best friend at Lehman and, after that, Lewis has his future plans cemented as well.
“I want to major in criminal justice because I’m planning on being a cop,” Lewis said. “Ever since I was younger, whenever anyone would ask me what I want to be when I grow up, I would say a police officer. So that’s what I want to pursue.”